Fred Blechman

Lt, VF-14, USN

"F4U Corsair Carrier Qualification"

by Fred Blechman

© Copyright Fred Blechman 1997

       Finally, after 13 years of dreaming about becoming a Naval Aviator and earning my "Wings of Gold," this was my "final exam." Making six arrested carrier landings in an F4U-4 Corsair would earn me my gold wings and Ensign's commission. I had no idea I was about to crash.

       It had been almost 21 arduous months since I had entered flight training. I had over 200 hours in SNJs, six arrested carrier landings in an SNJ, then over 200 hours in Corsairs. Now, getting ready for Corsair carrier qualification, I had made 91 field carrier landing practice (FCLP) approaches and landings at Bronson Field near Pensacola. Just six carrier landings in a Corsair and I would "graduate."

       So here I was, at about 9AM on August 10, 1950, flying F4U-4 Corsair #80893, together with five other students and our instructor, heading out to our carrier in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola. We rendezvoused with the light carrier U.S.S.Wright (CVL-49) as it churned at approximately 25 knots through the waters near Pensacola, Florida. The sea was calm with only occasional whitecaps from the gentle breeze. The azure sky was punctuated with random cotton balls. All was serene. Life was good. This was the day I'd been waiting for through so many episodes of "trial and terror."

       Our flight received a "Charlie" landing clearance, formed a right echelon, and streaked upwind by the starboard side of the ship at about 800 feet as we peeled off to establish our landing intervals.

       This was busy-time. Wheels, hook, flaps, power settings, trim, setting the beam position and interval while headed downwind, turning toward the carrier at the proper position, losing altitude, losing airspeed, spotting the landing signal officer (LSO), responding to LSO signals, adjusting bank and nose attitude...busy, busy time.

       This was the real thing. There was no way we could accurately simulate landing on a moving carrier with those FCLP hops at Bronson Field-but they were the best means available to practice flying low and slow, follow the LSO's signals, and set the proper speed and attitude for a carrier approach in the "Hose Nose" Corsair.

       My first four landings were normal, with no waveoffs, as we each in turn made our landings and takeoffs. After catching a wire, the barriers were dropped, and we made a deck-launched takeoff. But I was getting tired, and my light summer flight suit was drenched with sweat. I had no way of knowing that the next landing, #5, was going to be very different...

       "Only two more landings to go," I thought as I prepared for my deck launch. With a ten-knot surface wind and the carrier's forward speed, the wind over the deck was approximately 35 knots. The takeoff should be easy. I checked various settings. Full flaps. Cowl flaps open. Hook up. Trim 6 degrees nose right, 1 degree nose up, 6 degrees right wing down. Tailwheel locked. Cockpit canopy open and locked. Shoulder straps and seat belt tight. Prop control full forward for maximum revolutions per minute (rpm). Mixture auto rich. Supercharger neutral. Wings locked. Controls move freely.

       I watched the Launch Control Officer to my right give me the windup signal with his right arm as he pointed to my engine with his left arm. I advanced the throttle to 42 inches of manifold pressure and applied full toe brakes by pressing down the tops of the rudder pedals. At above 44 inches the wheels would start slipping on the deck, so full power could not yet be used. I held the joystick all the way back to keep the tail from lifting up and possibly digging the tips of the 13-foot four-bladed propeller into the wooden flight deck.

       The 2100 horsepower Pratt and Whitney R-2800-18W© Double-Wasp 18-cylinder radial engine roared and the whole airplane shook with anticipation as I verified proper engine readings and signalled I was ready with a head nod. (I dared not let go of the stick for a right hand salute, or the tail could come up!) The Launch Control Officer threw his arm forward with two fingers extended, the signal for me to release the brakes and take off.

       Surging forward, the Corsair picked up speed and rumbled down the deck. I added throttle to full power-approximately 54 inches of manifold pressure-and held a lot of right rudder to counter the torque of the huge engine and propeller sticking out 15 feet ahead of me. Releasing back stick pressure, the tail lifted and I could finally see where I was headed. I aimed for the right side of the deck, lifting off easily before the ship slipped behind, with nothing but rippling water beneath me. A slight right turn cleared my slipstream from the plane landing behind me, as I climbed ahead of the ship at 125 knots to the 800-foot pattern altitude. Since I was just going around to make another landing, I left the flaps and wheels down. At pattern altitude I reduced the throttle setting to 34 inches of manifold pressure, set the propeller to 2300 rpm, and reset the trim tabs for neutral stick pressure.

       About a mile ahead of the ship I made a 180-degree left turn, descending to 200 feet for the downwind leg. I dropped my tailhook, unlocked my tailwheel, and set myself up approximately 3000 feet abeam of the ship, fast approaching on my port side as it steamed upwind.

Landing #5

       The plane was flying smoothly with the canopy open and locked. The hot Gulf air and the roar of the engine blustered in from both sides of the windshield. Everything in the cockpit seemed A-okay, warm and comfortable as an old shoe as I watched the ship slip past my nose and toward my left wing.

       As the straight deck of the light carrier Wright steamed upwind and its wake appeared ahead of my left wingtip, I banked sharply toward the ship's stern and began slowing the airplane down to an approach speed of 90 knots. Check flaps down, wheels down, hook down, tail wheel unlocked. I shoved the prop control forward for full rpm and reset the trim tabs to takeoff settings in case of a waveoff. I set my rate of descent to about 150 feet per minute, maintaining just enough throttle to hold the nose up approximately 15 degrees, hanging on the prop.

       I checked my altitude by seeing where the clear, flat horizon crossed the ship's mast above the bridge, since that indicated exactly how high I was above the deck. At approximately the 90 degree position on the base leg I picked up the LSO with his colored paddles on the port fantail. Now the challenge was to keep the ship from getting ahead of me, since it was churning away from me at roughly 60 feet per second (including the surface wind that was trying to drag me even further behind). I watched the horizon crossing the bridge for altitude, and carefully controlled the power and nose attitude for holding around 90 knots-just a few knots above stalling!

       I used a simple technique to properly intercept the ship. I put the left side of the Corsair's nose on the center of the deck at the aft end- and held it there! If I tried to judge my turn any other way I would invariably get sucked back behind the ship with a straightaway to catch up-but then I'd lose sight of the LSO under the Corsair's long nose.

       There was no luxury of any significant straightaway in landing on those old straight-deck carriers when you were flying a long-nose Corsair in a nose-up attitude. You just couldn't see ahead of you-only off to the side. We essentially pyloned counter-clockwise around the LSO in order to keep him in sight!

       As I got close in, I tried to keep the nose aimed toward the ship's centerline. This was not only affected by the ship's forward motion, but also by the wind over the deck. This wind was seldom straight down the deck, but approximately 15-degrees to port so the turbulence from the ship's stacks and bridge did not appear in the flight path of the landing planes. This made for a very tricky approach and last few seconds...

       At this slow speed, just a few knots above stalling, it took a lot of right rudder, even though in a left turn. And you didn't dare add power quickly since the powerful engine turning that large prop could make the aircraft roll uncontrollably to the left-the dreaded "torque roll."

       It took a lot of back stick, considerable power, and right rudder to hang in there. As I approached the ramp in a left turn, the LSO's paddles and my own perception was that I was drifting to the right of the deck centerline. Too much right rudder. I cross-controlled a bit and slipped to the left just as I approached the ramp, and got a "cut," the mandatory command to cut my power and land.

       "Ah, landing number 5," I thought as I relaxed, dropped the nose, and pulled back to drop the tail so my hook would catch an early wire. But I relaxed too soon! Perhaps I was more tired than I realized, but my wings were not level, and I didn't pull back soon enough. The left main gear hit first, blowing the tire, and the plane bounced back in the air. At this point the tailhook caught the #3 wire and slammed the Corsair back on to the deck. On this second impact the left wheel strut broke and the right tire blew out!

       I was thrown with more force than usual against my shoulder harness as the plane tilted to the left and settled on the deck. The carrier crash horn blew. Deck hands, some carrying fire extinguishers, came scampering up from the catwalks and surrounded the airplane. Controlled pandemonium reigned as I was quickly unbuckled and helped out of the cockpit, since fire after a crash was always a danger.

       A Corsair zoomed overhead taking a "fouled deck" waveoff. It was Midshipman John A."Jack" Eckstein, my roommate and good friend through most of flight training. He told me later he was so shaken by my accident right in front of him as he was making his approach for his fifth landing that it took him several more passes to get in his last two landings. (He got his wings, stayed in the Navy, and retired as a Captain.)

       I was not injured at all-except for my pride. But I was very concerned about being washed out of flight training, shattering a 13 year dream- and with only one landing to go! I had special reason to be concerned since I had my only previous accident just three weeks before when I torque-rolled a Corsair on a waveoff during my first field carrier landing practice flight at Bronson Field, and crumpled the left wing. No personal injury there, either, and a Student Pilot Disposition Board allowed me to continue training.

Disposition Board - Again!

       Now I had to appear a second time before the Student Pilot Disposition Board to determine if I would get washed-out, or would get the chance to make that one remaining landing (the crash counted as #5) to get my wings. Was it my unblemished record prior to three weeks earlier, was it my sincerity and obvious strong desire to become a Naval Aviator, or was it the fact that North Korea had invaded South Korea a month or so before, and the Navy was calling up the Reserves and anticipated the need for more pilots? Whatever the reason, I was awarded some additional field carrier landing practice and another try for that last carrier landing!

       Five days after the crash I climbed aboard the same Corsair, #80893, now with new tires and a new port landing gear strut, and made five field carrier practice landings at Bronson Field, and was considered qualified to make that last arrested landing needed to get my wings. Three days later, on August 18, I walked aboard the U.S.S. Wright in port at 6AM. The carrier steamed out into the Gulf of Mexico for that day's carrier qualifications.

Landing #6

       The first flight of Corsairs appeared at 9AM and began their qualification landings. The first to complete his six landings was NavCad Vince "Rick" Ricciardi, whom I'd known since pre-flight. I congratulated him as he climbed down from his Corsair, #97168, and I clambered aboard. I strapped myself in with the help of a plane captain, checked all the power and control settings, and deck launched. One landing to go.

       This was it! If I had too much trouble getting aboard, or crashed again, it was certain I would be washed out. The takeoff and downwind leg were normal, but as I made the approach I got more tense than usual as I considered the consequences of failing. This probably made me concentrate more than in previous landings, since I got a "Roger" flag signal from the LSO all the way into the cut, and caught the #3 wire. I did it! I had qualified to be a Naval Aviator!

       The ceremony for commissioning as Ensign, and receiving the "Wings of Gold," was held at Pensacola on August 23, 1950. My mother flew in from New York to pin on my wings and bars. I've never done anything more difficult-or of which I'm more proud-than earning those gold wings! And after over thirty arrested carrier landings, I learned to drive a car...


Flashback - First Try

       I was six years old in 1933 when I went up for my first $5 plane ride over New York City. It left me with an indelible impression of all those little houses, little cars, little roads, plowed fields, and tiny, tiny people-and how the whole world twisted and turned as the pilot maneuvered the airplane. I loved it! However, it wasn't until 1937, at age ten, at a Navy airshow with fat, gray-and-yellow Navy biplanes, that I decided I was going to be a Navy pilot!

       After eight years of building model airplanes and devouring flying magazines, my chance came in July of 1945 when I joined the Navy V-5 program as an Apprentice Seaman for four semesters of college training in uniform before entering flight training. Finally, in August of 1946 I became an "AvCad," the term used at that time for Aviation Cadets. After eight flights in an N2S Stearman "Yellow Peril" in Dallas, Texas, I successfully soloed on September 16. Then it was on to pre-flight training at Ottumwa, Iowa.

       But World War II was over, downsizing was in place, and we were given the option to sign up as Midshipmen for four more years under the Holloway Plan, or go back to civilian life and complete our college education under the G.I.Bill. I got out.

Second Try

       However, I maintained contact with John Higson, who had stayed in the program, and heard about the "Ab Initio" (From the Beginning) program my former classmates were beginning at Cabaniss Field in Corpus Christi. They were starting out in SNJs as the primary trainer instead of the Stearman-and I would have been in the first class to do this! This drove me nuts. I haunted the Navy recruiting office trying to get back into Navy flight training. It took two years, but in November of 1948 I got back into flight training and headed to Pensacola for pre-flight. This time we were called "NavCads," a new designation that officially began on June 22, 1948 with a new Navy flight training program.

       I completed pre-flight at Pensacola, then basic flight training in SNJs at Pensacola (with six arrested carrier landings on the U.S.S. Cabot (CVL-28) on 23 March, 1950), advanced flight training in F4U-4 Corsairs at Cabannis Field in Corpus Christi, and then back to Pensacola for Corsair carrier qualification. Oh, by the way, being a city-boy, I had never learned to drive a car, but I was flying Corsairs!


"Over The Rainbow"

by Fred Blechman © 1999

    It was planned to be a pretty simple hop. As it turned out, I almost flew "over the rainbow" to the Land of OZ!

     LCDR Felix Craddock, the VF-14 Executive Officer (XO) of our squadron, VF-14, and I were to be catapulted in our F4U-5 Corsairs from the light carrier USS Wright (CVL-49) as it was steaming in the Mediterranean Sea. I was to be Felix's wingman.

     We were to fly north for about 150 miles, climbing to about 35,000 feet. We were then to turn back toward the carrier. The object was to test the ability of the ship's radar to spot us coming inbound, and to determine our bearing from the ship, our altitude, and our groundspeed. Good practice for the ship's radar crew, and a big help in calibrating their system.

     This was the Spring of 1951, and no armament was loaded, since it was peacetime in the Med (although the Korean Action was in full swing in Asia). No special equipment was needed beyond our normal helmets, oxygen masks, and liferafts. We wore our G-suits as standard gear.

     The radios were checked out before we mounted our steeds-side-number 403 for the XO, and I was in #405. We climbed up and into the cockpits using the various toe-holds and hand-holds provided in the airframe for that purpose. (This took strength and the limber body of a young man, so I doubt if I could accomplish that task today at 71!). Fortunately, we weren't wearing our chutes at the time; the Plane Captains had already placed them in our cockpits.

Plugging In

     As soon as we were seated, we began strapping ourselves in. An adjustable safety belt and shoulder straps both fit into a quick-release safety buckle. The shoulder straps were attached with spring tension to an inertia reel behind the seat, allowing you to lean forward yet be protected from sudden maneuvers or a crash landing when the inertia reel would lock the straps. You could also lock the shoulder straps independent of the inertia reel, which I normally did unless I had to lean forward to reach a control or switch.

     I plugged my microphone/headphone connector into the radio jack located on the bulkhead behind my right shoulder. The pigtail of the G-suit was plugged into a quick-disconnect fitting located on the aft end of the left-hand control shelf.

     Whenever we pulled 2Gs or more in a maneuver-even a tight turn-a valve would open and force air into the bladders in the legs, thighs, and abdomen of the G-suit. This would tend to prevent blood from flowing out of the head into the lower body, and would allow us to pull an extra G or two without graying or blacking out.

     Next, I plugged the oxygen mask into a tube at the bottom of the seat, put the mask to my face, adjusted the straps for a snug fit, and breathed deeply to check that the two oxygen flow indicators were blinking to indicate proper operation.

     The F4U-5 had a diluter-demand oxygen system with an air-valve lever on the left-hand control shelf that allowed the pilot to select NORMAL OXYGEN or 100% OXYGEN. I selected NORMAL for a maximum duration flight. This conserved oxygen by producing a proper proportion of oxygen that automatically increased until at 30,000 feet it was 100% oxygen. (The 100% OXYGEN selection was used on night flights for better vision, and were usually shorter flights.) Normally, we didn't use oxygen at all below 8,000 feet (5,000 feet at night), but since on this flight we were going to high altitude, I left the mask on.

The Launch

     We were parked forward of the other aircraft on this relatively short deck, so we would both be catapulted-not enough room for a running deck launch. We each started up our engine, unfolded our wings, then each checked to see that our wing-lock indicator (a small red metal tab that extended above the wing) pulled down into the wing to assure positive wing-lock. We then taxied forward-Felix to the port catapult, and I to the starboard cat.

     Following the standard procedure, the deck crew attached a steel bridle to hooks on the underside of each wing, with the front of the bridle looped around the catapult shuttle. At the rear of the plane, a small "holdback ring," designed to break under the forward thrust of the catapult shuttle (but NOT to break UNTIL then, although the aircraft engine was at full power!), was connected between the tailwheel and the deck.

     Felix was given the signal to apply full power. When he was satisfied with his engine instrument readings, he gave a snappy right-hand salute to the Launch Officer. When the Launch Officer was satisfied with the engine sound and the position of the forward deck related to the sea (since sometimes the deck would pitch forward in a rolling sea), he gave the launch signal. The catapult shuttle strained forward, finally snapping the holdback ring, and Felix's Corsair shot forward and off the deck with a smooth launch.

     The same hookup and procedure got me off the deck and into the air about 15 seconds behind Felix, who was climbing in a gentle left-hand turn so I could rendezvous with him by turning inside his radius, joining up, and then slipping under him to his starboard side, slightly below and behind him.

Formation Flying

     The whole process of formation flying-from rendezvous to holding position-is a learned technique. The rendezvous is accomplished by putting the lead plane in a position on your windscreen-and keeping it there. As long as the angle stays the same, you are on a line of interception. As you begin to close in, you must adjust your rate of closure so when you get close to the lead plane you are flying a similar path and speed to his, and don't need to make any drastic control changes to stay in position.

     Flying close formation is one of the most picturesque and challenging experiences of military aviation, since civilian pilots rarely fly in close formation. Watching the plane merely feet away from you moving slightly as you make tiny-and constant-adjustments to stick, rudder and throttle to stay in position takes full attention and practice.

     In close formation you don't DARE look at your instruments or anything else but the plane you're formed on. The lead plane must be smooth and not make any unexpected moves, especially into the wingman. And in the clouds or at night, with no outside visual clues, you can't be concerned about whether you are right-side up or upside-down-you follow your leader.

The Rainbow

     So, off we were, headed north over the boundless horizon, with nothing but the shimmering sea in every direction. The sky was cloudless-but ahead there were clouds above the horizon. We climbed at about 1000 feet per minute at 160 knots indicated airspeed, reaching our assigned altitude of 35,000 feet and continuing outbound.

     At this point, Felix passed the lead on to me, and he flew off my right (starboard) wing. As we flew north, apparently a storm had taken place below and ahead to the left of us, and the placement of the sun and our position related to the mist in the air below created a beautiful rainbow extending from sea to sea. I was fascinated by this complete color arch, with invisible ultraviolet becoming visable blue at the inside of the arch, then through all the other visable colors and shades to red and then into invisible infra-red at the outer limits of the arch.

     On we flew. I was feeling wonderful! What could be better than flying a Corsair at 35,000 feet and viewing this spectacle of nature. My radio was buzzing, it seemed. Strange voices. Shouting. It made no sense to me. Suddenly, I perceived that Felix had gone over to my left side (interfering with my view of the rainbow!) He was making strange gestures, then he pulled ahead and was flying zig-zags. I thought, "I guess Felix is bored, and is just having some fun." More radio gibberish...

No Blinking!

     Was it training or intuition that made me think to glance at the oxygen flow indicator on the forward left console? Why wasn't it blinking? Must be bad, since I was feeling fine. But I knew there was a second oxygen indicator further back on the left console, near the trim tab controls. It was also not blinking! Hmmmm. I knew that up to 41,000 feet the indicator should blink when oxygen is being drawn. Could BOTH indiators be bad. OR MAYBE I WASN'T GETTING OXYGEN!

     I pushed the mask up against my face, took a couple of deep breaths, and the radio began making sense. Felix was having a fit on the radio. "405! 405! Where are you going? Let me have the lead. I have it!" We were way beyond the 150-mile turnaround, and headed for Italy-without clearance during cold-war tensions! I was heading us to the Land of OZ...

     I got on Felix's wing, and he turned us back toward the ship. Since I had flown us over 200 miles from the ship, it took us over an hour to get back, and after we landed aboard, I got HELL from the XO! Deservedly! I should have been checking my oxygen indicator regularly, instead of watching a rainbow.

     My equipment had been working properly, but my oxygen mask straps were not tight enough, and with a demand oxygen system, it required the vacuum of your breathing in to open the oxygen valve-so I was getting little if any oxygen. Classic case of anoxia-feeling great, but with severely reduced faculties.

     I believe that my former experience in an altitude chamber during advanced flight training may have contributed to my recognizing-even on a subconscious level-that I should check my oxygen indicator. I recall that a group of us were herded into a sealed chamber with two instructors and told to put on oxygen masks. The chamber pressure was slowly reduced to simulate an altitude of about 25,000 feet, and we were asked to remove our masks for about 30 seconds, then write our name with a pencil and pad provided to each of us.

     The instructors left their masks on, watching and observing the rest of us. I felt fine. Good, in fact, and wrote my name with no problem. I wondered why some of the other guys were laughing, having fun-and found I was, too. A couple of the guys seemed to go to sleep, and an instructor quickly went over and applied the oxygen mask. Then we were all told to put our masks back on (Why? I was feeling great.)

     When the chamber got back down to normal sea-level pressure, we got out, and got to look at our signatures. What a mess!!! They were all unrecognizable, like chicken scratchings. The point was made. With anoxia, you feel great until you pass out! I'll never know how close I got to passing out on that flight "over the rainbow..."


"The Fred Baron's 73rd Birthday Biplane Flight"

by Fred Blechman

© Copyright Fred Blechman 2000

     It was a few minutes before 11AM on my 73rd birthday. There I was in the front seat of a taildragger Stearman biplane, with cloth helmet, goggles, white scarf, and my Naval Aviator leather flight jacket-my Fred Baron garb-reliving the short but memorable experience of soloing a Navy "Yellow Peril" N2S Stearman on September 16, 1946 at Hensley Field, near Dallas, Texas.

     Flashing back, that took place at an outlying grass field near Grand Prairie. I was in the back seat-the location for a solo pilot. I could look in front of me at the back of the head of the instructor, and listen to his comments through a rubber acoustic tube, called a "gosport." The instructor spoke into the gosport, with the sound ending up at earpads in my helmet. I could listen, but had no way to reply. Also, the instructor had two rear-view mirrors to watch my face; I could only see his eyes. Pretty intimidating.

     After only eight one-hour instructional flights in the Stearman, my instructor, LT M.K."Mel" Crawford, got out of the front seat and wished me good luck. "Make three landings, and then I'll get back in and we'll fly back to Hensley."

     I gunned the engine, took off and climbed to pattern altitude (right rudder in a climb!), and leveled off as I made the 180-degree turn to downwind. What a thrill! What freedom! What a view! Hey, there's no one in the front seat!!

     This was the culmination of about 15 years of dreaming of becoming a pilot. It took two years in the Navy V-5 program as an Apprentice Seaman and several months as an Aviation Cadet (AvCad) to get to this point. I was flying solo! Alone!

     I completed three solo landings successfully (whew!), and went on to get my "Wings of Gold," flying F4U Corsairs off aircraft carriers in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean.

     But after leaving the Navy in 1954, while raising a family, I had little involvement with airplanes-until my retirement about eight years ago. Since then I've flown SNJs (former Navy advanced trainers), Cessnas and Pipers (including twin-engines), ultralights, homebuilts, and even twice as a passenger in the Goodyear Blimp!

     But I had never flown a Stearman-or any open-cockpit biplane-since that solo flight in 1946, when I met "Barnstormin' Bertie" at an airshow at Van Nuys Airport some years ago. Bertie Duffy was there with her white and red 220-horsepower 1941 Stearman biplane that she bought in 1980 as a crated-up basketcase.

     Bertie, who already had pilot's and mechanic's licenses, spent many nights and weekends to restore the Stearman to mint condition by 1982. Now here she was, offering half-hour rides for $90, and one-hour rides for $150. Hmmmmm. Tempting. But too expensive for me at that time.

     But the desire lingered on. Westways Magazine profiled Barnstormin' Bertie in June, 1994, with a picture of her beautiful Stearman. I still have that article. And I kept seeing Bertie and her Stearman at the annual Van Nuys Airshows.

     One day recently, talking with a friend, Lee Auger, I discovered he had actually flown with Bertie. His daughter, Cherie, had paid for his ride as a Father's Day gift. Lee loved it!

     The hook was in! I called Bertie and decided I would raid my piggie bank to go up on my 73rd birthday. Lee came along to video the landing and takeoff from near the runway.

     Bertie, in the back seat, taxied out to the end of the runway at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima. She ran up the engine, checked the magnetos, lined up on the runway, and off we went, headed almost directly south.

     The video shows that at exactly 11AM we were off the ground in only about 500 feet of runway. Slowly (very slowly!) the ground dropped away as the houses, cars, and roads kept shrinking while the horizon kept moving further away into the slight haze. The engine roared as sound and air poured over the small windshield. Open cockpit flying. There's nothing like it!

     Unlike the simple one-way gosport of the Navy Stearmans, Bertie has installed a two-way intercom in her plane, and soon after take-off she told me I could take over the controls. Stick and rudder, the good old-fashioned way to fly an airplane. I've never quite liked a wheel ("yoke") instead of a joystick!

     After a few miles heading south we made a 180-degree turn and flew over the 210 Freeway heading northwest until intercepting the 118 Freeway. An easy left bank had us heading west toward Chatsworth, where I located and circled my daughter's house a couple of times. We were a bit too high to see my two granddaughters down there, but I knew they were waiting and watching, and probably jumping up and down shouting "There's Grandpa!" After all, how many white and red biplanes do you see circling your house these days?

     "You're slipping," noted Bertie, "Too much right rudder." That's when I noticed that the front cockpit did not have a turn-bank indicator with a ball to indicate slipping or skidding. Oh, well, it had been over 50 years...The seat of my pants isn't what it used to be!

     Next I flew south and slightly west to circle my home in West Hills as my wife, Ev, waved towels to let me know she spotted me, then south to circle Lee Auger's home at the 101 Freeway. From there I turned west, following the freeway to the Las Virgenes Pass. We flew through the pass, between mountain tops, to the Pacific Ocean at Malibu.

     Turning east we flew over the water following the coast ("Look at all those boats!"), crossing land at Santa Monica ("Look at all those big buildings!"). We flew south of the new Getty Museum ("Wow!"), then along the mountains, over the HOLLYWOOD sign, and over the convolution of freeways ("What a maze-and all those cars!").

     I banked left (I love watching the whole world tilt when I bank an airplane!) and headed northwest and then northeast over Glendale, Flintridge, La Canada, La Crescenta, Tujunga, and Sunland. Bertie took over the controls, entering the traffic pattern, then base leg, final, and a perfect three-point landing back at Whiteman Airpark at exactly 12 noon. A wonderful one-hour flight. The best $150 I ever spent!

     For a great flight, call Bertie at The Bird's Nest, (818)753-0070 or (877)322-8753, or send e-mail to .

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       Ensign Fred Blechman was immediately assigned to VF-14 (Fighter Squadron Fourteeen), the "Tophatters," flying F4U-5 Corsairs in the Sixth Fleet. He made two Mediterranean cruises with VF-14 until he left the Navy in late 1952 as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He later attained the rank of Lieutenant after several years in the reserves. Since 1961 he has since written over 750 magazine articles and seven books about electronics, microcomputers, and flying.

Note: Fred Blechman's latest book is "Bent Wings - F4U Corsair Action & Accidents: True Tales of Trial & Terror! You can get a signed softcover copy of this 376-page illustrated book for $18 postpaid by calling Fred at (818)346-7024 from 9AM-5PM. .

Fred "Crash" Blechman (Honorary Japanese Ace for crashing five Corsairs) (Shameless commercial) (First 35 pages of my F4U Corsair book) (My electronics projects book)

----- Fred Blechman


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